Better Careers Design Group Spotlight: Team Inland EmpireAugust 2021

The Better Careers Design Group is a multi-year project funded by The James Irvine Foundation focused on developing solutions to local workforce problems elevated through community engagement. The goal of the Design Group project is to support the work of the Irvine Foundation's Better Careers initiative to equitably connect Californians to good jobs with family-sustaining wages and advancement opportunities. Twenty organizations participate in the Design Group, divided into four local teams based on geography: Alameda, Central Coast, Inland Empire and Los Angeles. We’ll be publishing a series of spotlights on each Local Team to highlight these solutions, and the hard work that went into co-creating them with communities over the last 18 months despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. 

Apprenticeship has become a hot topic in the workforce development world. In California, the Inland Empire is the place to look to get a sneak peek at how apprenticeship systems might grow and scale over the next few years.

What are apprenticeships?

An apprenticeship is a job in which the worker is paid to learn a set of skills through on-the-job training. It is sometimes called ‘college without debt’ because it allows you to take classes and even earn a degree while earning and learning through hands-on work experience. Traditionally offered in “trades” industries, like construction and electrical work, apprenticeships have begun to be offered in a variety of different fields, including advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and  healthcare. 

Expanding Youth Apprenticeships in the Inland Empire

The Inland Empire Design Group team - composed of local K-12 school districts, community colleges, community based-organizations and government agencies (see full list on the Design Group homepage) - came into the project with the goal of expanding apprenticeship opportunities for local youth (aged 16-24). Early on, the team learned that there were less than 20 youth apprentices in San Bernardino and Riverside, two of the state's largest counties by population and land area. In order to learn more about barriers that youth face to accessing apprenticeship opportunities, the Inland Empire Design Group engaged over 80 community members across San Bernardino and Riverside counties in 2020 and 2021 through virtual interviews. 

Jasmin Pamukcu / Cusp
Jasmin Pamukcu / Cusp

The team quickly learned that many youth simply do not know about apprenticeship opportunities. When the team shared more information on apprenticeship, many community members - especially parents - were excited about the opportunities, especially as an alternative to four-year college where youth could earn money while getting a degree. Several students and parents voiced that they were frustrated with the status quo, where four-year college is presented as the only option for students. “College is not my child’s thing,” says one local parent. “The push for A-G requirements is frustrating. I had to tell [the school], ‘you are not steering him in the right direction. He needs hands-on learning.’” This frustration speaks to the larger systemic issue in our workforce and education systems that lead students to believe four-year institutions are the only way to attain and be worthy of success. Apprenticeships are an exciting way to broaden the pathways to employment and demonstrate that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to obtaining a successful career. 

The Solution

In order to solve these systems-level problems uncovered during community engagement, Team Inland Empire plans to introduce new Apprenticeship Outreach Coordinator (AOC) positions at local workforce organizations. AOCs will be responsible for getting the word out about apprenticeship to youth & parents, facilitating integration of apprenticeship pathways and information into schools, and establishing resources for youth in apprenticeship programs (such as mentorship opportunities and peer support groups). The goal of the AOC solution is to increase youth enrollment in and completion of apprenticeship programs, positioning youth to earn at least $20 per hour one year post program completion. This position could be a game changer for 16- to 24-year-olds in the Inland Empire who are struggling to find careers. The job of the AOC won't be easy. It will focus both on the practical side of connecting youth to apprenticeship programs and on changing hearts to see this as another successful career pathway.

Jasmin Pamukcu / Cusp

Team IE is focused on ensuring that the AOC position increases the equity of economic outcomes. The program will track access to ensure that the services of the AOC are equitably distributed for people with different identities and experiences (gender, racial, ability, foster care, low-income, and justice-involvement). Each AOC position will be dedicated to working with local Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) youth providers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, to serve youth who are not currently connected to the local school system. Third Sector will continue to support the team in building out an equity-based continuous improvement process, ensuring that there is a plan to use quantitative and qualitative data to improve AOC programming on a regular basis. 

Implementing and Scaling AOCs

The team is eager to begin hiring AOCs and to get the word out about local apprenticeship opportunities. Recently, Team IE unanimously selected Chaffey College Foundation/InTech Center to be the ‘backbone organization’ for the implementation phase of the work, serving as the central project manager and convener of the full implementation team. Over the next several months, Chaffey will be focused on seeking funding from the James Irvine Foundation and other philanthropic and government organizations and putting plans in place to hire AOCs in early 2022. 

Ultimately, Team IE hopes to impact how youth apprenticeship systems scale across the state. There is already evidence of the positive ripple effect the project has made, even prior to the hiring of AOCs. The project gave the LAUNCH Apprenticeship Network and San Bernardino City Unified School District (SBCUSD) the inspiration to run a summer pre-apprenticeship program for graduating SBCUSD seniors, paying them to take classes and prepare for full-time work. If Team IE is able to secure the funding, they plan to publish a youth apprenticeship playbook that shares lessons learned from implementation of the AOC solution, how it improved over time with community feedback, and give suggestions on how other California counties might scale the approach.  

If you are interested in learning more about Team Inland Empire’s solution or the Better Careers Design Group work as a whole, please reach out to Drew Souders at